In ‘unforgiving’ NHL, Tortorella demands more of Blue Jackets

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Last summer, John Tortorella ruffled some feathers – and maybe lit some fires – in sending a letter demanding that Columbus Blue Jackets come to training camp ready to go.

Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt captured the mood during the Blue Jackets’ tremendous winning streak:

The letters arrived by mail, an old method from an old soul. Postmarked from Blue Jackets headquarters and individually addressed to each player, the single-typed page bluntly spelled out the road ahead. It was late July 2016, roughly one month before training camp began. “Usually you’re not talking hockey that early in the summer,” Foligno says, “but guys started calling each other, asking, ‘Did you get the letter?’ It sparked everyone.” The gist of the message? As Atkinson remembers: “You better f—ing come ready to rock and roll.”

Apparently this off-season’s version of that “rock and roll” letter went out on July 1, as Alison Lukan of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ website reports. Tortorella said that it’s “direct and to the point,” making it clear that he didn’t prompt players to go from “rock and roll” to, say, jazz.

Could it be too much? After all, an 82 regular-season games and some (potentially scarring) playoff matches can take a lot of a player.

Tortorella’s logic is reasonable, though: you can’t just relax. If you do, other teams might leave you behind.

“The league is so unforgiving,” Tortorella said. “If you’re not staying on top of things and staying current and always trying to improve as a leader, as a Blue Jacket, and as a team, you get stuck in the mud.

“We’ve just laid a little bit of the groundwork, we have a little bit of a foundation, now we have to continue to grow as an organization and as a team.”

And, before you accuse Tortorella of merely being a drill sergeant who can’t change, note his Jack Adams run last season.

Now, there’s the joke out there that Sergei Bobrovsky essentially “won” the Jack Adams for Torts, yet he got a lot out of a team that came into 2016-17 as a popular pick to finish with the league’s best draft lottery odds. Instead, he was often forward-thinking; the Blue Jackets even constructed a power play – enhanced by unexpected weapon Sam Gagner – that confounded the NHL for a significant chunk of the season.

In other words, Tortorella seems willing to innovate and keep up with a league that is “so unforgiving.” Such a thought makes it easier to accept that the coach, himself, can be a bit unforgiving, too.